Concerns are being raised regarding the level of support, or lack thereof, available to mothers in Te Tai Tokerau.
Far North community midwife Shelley Tweedie of Kaitaia's Te Puna Midwives said despite demand for antenatal education being high in Northland, mothers were not receiving the education they needed in her opinion.
Antenatal education helps to prepare parents to care for a baby by providing information and developing their confidence.
According to Tweedie, the Northland District Health Board (DHB) had a stated target of delivering antenatal education to at least 30 per cent of the birthing population.
Tweedie said the target of 30 per cent came from the DHB's publicly-available 2021/2022 Service Coverage Schedule.
"I'd estimate they're currently meeting maybe 20 per cent of the population's needs," Tweedie said.
"It's such a loss for the community not to have this education, this support."
However, Sue Bree, director of midwifery at the DHB, contested the claim.
"I don't know that we do have a target on that," Bree said.
According to Bree, there were around 2000 births per year in Te Tai Tokerau.
Bree said in 2021, the DHB offered three face-to-face Nga wānanga o Hine Kōpu, and about 17 hāpu (pregnant) māmā (mothers) attended.
According to the DHB, Nga wānanga o Hine Kōpu currently involved a two-day wānanga on kaupapa Māori concepts about birthing and parenting.
It also included kōrero (discussion) on wahakura (woven flax bassinet for infants), rongoā Māori (traditional healing), as well as learning about breastfeeding, safe sleeping, the role of tāne (men) as well as many other topics and activities and is available to women of all ethnicities.
Bree said the wānanga included all the same information as a traditional antenatal education course, but was delivered in a different style, which she believed resonated better with Māori women.
Across Northland, Bree believed 17 wānanga were delivered to a total of 130 participants throughout 2021.
That equates to 6.5 per cent of Te Tai Tokerau's 2000 annual births.
She said the wānanga in Kaitaia were offered in conjunction with Te Hiku Hauora, and usually there would be more people attending than there currently were.
However, according to midwife Tweedie, this was no longer the case.
"This wonderful programme used to be here in Kaitaia, but isn't anymore," Tweedie said.
"There is only one provider of antenatal education locally in Kaitaia - and this is not enough."
Bree said online options were set up to ensure education continued during Covid and believed the feedback had been very favourable.
"Many people don't want to be in a crowd, so the DHB responded with online education that women work through themselves, with educators available for follow-up afterwards," she said.
"We're clear that style of learning is embraced by some people so it may very well continue."
Bree estimated the DHB's online programme had about 300 participants over the last year.
That estimate brings the DHB's stated total of women reached by online or in-person antenatal education to 430, or 21.5 per cent of Te Tai Tokerau's estimated 2000 annual births.
Tweedie remained adamant that supply was not meeting demand and Far North mothers continued to lack community connection.
"The DHB needs to fulfil their obligations to the Far North community and fund more antenatal education," she said.
"They have offered online classes recently for Whangārei-run programmes, but people need community connection.
"We can't keep using Covid restrictions as an excuse."
Bree agreed that in-person was always best.
"Antenatal education is hard to quantify," she said.
"So much of it happens sitting around the kitchen of a woman's home.
"It takes place every minute of the working day, not just in formal classes."
Finally, Tweedie said she was disappointed by the apparent decreasing priority given to antenatal education.
While the Northland DHB's 2019/2020 annual plan stated targets for Māori engaging with antenatal education at 53 per cent, targets are absent from the most recent plan.
"Sadly, there is no planning of targets for antenatal education in the most recent NDHB annual plan of 2021/2022," Tweedie said.